Oddly, after a trouble-free bedtime these last three years, this last week has seen Eva more restless than usual after lights out.
She’s always found it difficult to settle, which is not atypical – kids on the Spectrum often find it harder to slow their minds into sleep, and some degree of insomnia is expected – but I’ve always wondered what Eva thinks about in those moments before she slips away (which she says she achieves by counting off the Jubilee Line stations in her head.) How is she ordering her day? How is she framing events? Does she feel regret? Is she happy?
I always thought she was, but Eva’s come down almost every night this week in some distress. The stated cause is often tweaked - once she recited an obviously busked ’long dream’ about being lost in a foggy maze that was basically a direct lift from Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire – but, eventually, the common core reason is revealed: “I don’t want to be separated from you!”
Separation Anxiety is such an issue with Spectrum kids because the parent/guardian is much more vital for continuity. I think Eva’s generally been so good at adapting to everyday timetable tweaks that we’ve often forgotten her classic ASD need for reassurance & routine. It’s not that everything has to be done in exactly the same way every day for her – far from it – but all the elements of the basic framework at least have to be there.
So, Eva’s bedtime routine is: bath, teeth, story, reading time, water, look out the window, hugs, bed. We can juggle these about as much as we like and can even add one (toilet, usually) but I think they all have to be ticked off for her to be truly comfortable. Problem is, I don’t think we’ve missed any this week.
Maybe her mind’s too active and she’s just making excuses to come down and satisfy her curiosity, much as I did at her age, sitting on the stairs reading Winnie the Pooh or Treasure Island while listening to That’s Life seeping through the crack in the living room door. Maybe she’s just not tired enough, after too many late nights and long lie-ins? Maybe she really has developed an instant fear of the dark? Or perhaps she suddenly, genuinely needs us, because she’s starting to realise how essential we are to helping her understand the world, the complexity of which she’s only just beginning to comprehend and which might frighten her?
Eva’s certainly becoming more aware of the difference & distance between herself and her classmates – particularly in comparison to the indefatigable social whirlwind that is her little brother Tomas, of whom she’s often madly jealous. She knows she’s Autistic and we’ve simply explained what that means but, shamefully, we have not yet given her the practical weapons to deal with it – we teach by example and flag up appropriate responses all the time but haven’t really done any social roleplay or provided her with any crib sheets that could allow her to navigate even one of the myriad social situations she could face everyday – because she will need to learn that stuff by rote. She will never know, instinctively, how to respond, and the next four years building up to teenage are going to be vital, in terms of her learning all those ‘acceptable’ come backs that just might make her life easier.
This is work we have to start ASAP, but, as for her nocturnal wanderings, who knows? The true cause of Eva’s anxious sleeplessness might actually be totally unrelated to all my waffle. Or maybe the return to the school/extra-curricular roundabout will just wear it out of her. Either way, I must make a mental note not to show her that Doctor Who episode with the Vashta Nerada anytime soon.
In the meantime, sleep well, my sweet.